Posted on July 29, 2004 at 12:21 pm

me_and_lily
You may have figured out by now, had you cared to ponder such marginal details that flit through your life, that this Moth Heaven woman is not exactly one to say gratuitously nice things about people in the knitting world. That this Moth Heaven woman is, like Teresa Heinz Kerry, “opinionated”. I applaud what is laudable, I celebrate our everyday accomplishments, but I don’t fawn all over just anyone. And to be honest, I signed up for the Lily Chin beading class at TKGA conference in Mancester not because I have this desire to rub elbows with the knitterati, but because I could go to TKGA but for one day, and because like Mount Everest, this class was there.

There is a peculiar esoterica to knitting celebrity. You and I know who the big girls (and guys) are by simple names: Kaffe, Sasha, Mondragon, Falick. The rest of the world thinks that we are a strange group, those of us who knit, to say nothing of those of us who knit and read blogs. And the celebrity that our knitterati have among us must be an odd experience, like walking in and out of an air-conditioned house on a muggy day: Hot! now cold! now Hot! now cold. . . If you don’t believe me, look at this footage from David Letterman. where the audience laughs when he announces that Lily Chin is going to make him a sweater before the end of the show. C’mon. That’s so cruel.

I had heard, you know, things about Ms. Lily. I had been told that if there was such a thing, that she was a Knitting Diva. I had been told to “do my homework, or else” by two yarnshop owners. I had been told to “wear lipstick” by one of her former students. I had been begged to “invite her for the weekend” by ladies in my knitting group (I guess a good friend of hers lives out on Plum Island). So it was with minor trepidation that I approached the class, dutifully armed with yarn and photocopies of favorite stitches and the swatches to illustrate them. I had tried on several outfits. I had accessorized. I picked up my registration, and found the classroom and one of the last few seats. The other students around me were chatting nervously. It seemed none of us knew quite what to expect. Then Lily Chin walked in.

We want something from our knitterati that I think is different from what the world at large wants of their celebrities. We knitters can be a cozy bunch. We make things for people we love; what a nice group of people we are. The designers we elevate to the top of the Amazon list and pay $ to spend Saturday morning with at our LYSs are celebrated because they are, like us, clever and committed to the craft. But they’re a little more clever and a lot more committed to the craft than we are. Because they are so much like us, we expect a lot of them, I think. We want not only their friendly smile, we want their praise: the acknowledgement that we too could be where they are. And sometimes, we want them as houseguests. I have taken a few classes over the years, and there is always at least one person in the room who is trying too hard to be the knitterati’s best friend. In this class with Lily, there were more than six. I don’t think that I was one of them.

Immediately I understood the lipstick advice: the lights dimmed when she walked in. I was way underdressed in my favorite linen outfit and tasteful jewlery. She was resplendent in white: white fishnets, funky cream coloured shoes, bias-hemmed georgette skirt, and the beaded tunic from her latest book. She trundled into the class a giant hockey bag on wheels, and lassoed two students to unload her gear, got the group into an orderly line to choose our beads, and we were off and running. She sat on the table at the front of the room. For demonstrations she used a giant pair of needles (something like size 35s), chunky yarn, and some huge foam “beads”. She was charming, professional, straightforward, and generously laughed at everyone’s jokes, but most especially the bawdy ones. She’s funny. She knew everyone’s name by lunch (no small accomplishent in a class of 25). She praised people’s creativity in their swatches, and she showed many samples of her triumphs, and a few of her failures. In the market, she talked to everyone like she knew them all already (maybe she does, she even thinks that she knows me), and (gossip flash!) she bought glass knitting needles from the Elegant Ewe booth.

There was a woman in the class who brought many little Victorian bags with her to show (like, why did she need this class?) that I wish I had taken some pictures of. Lily talked us through about twelve different ways to put beads into our knitting. It’s a skill that I would never have thought that I would use, and having looked at the book before, I thought that it would put too much sparkle in my clothes. Like Alison, I am not a sparkle girl. But at the end of the class, when Lily took some of the swatches people brought (not mine) and laid different beads out on them to show us how we might conceptualize a garment with just the right amount, I was thinking that I might actually do something like that. I am thinking about a hat for my first attempt. Or a beaded edge for the sweater I am still designing for my batch of Chasing Rainbows.
ooh. the possibilities.
But as for Lily, she’s cool. You should take a class with her, if you get the chance. You don’t have to kill yourself to do the homework; she didn’t even look at mine (granted, I wasn’t waving them under her nose like some people). Take notes. Make some jokes. Have a blast.
And wear lipstick.